The Spectrometer Teclescope for Imaging X-rays (STIX) includes an Imager (left) and Detector Module (right) (Photo: FHNW)

The STIX Instrument

Spectrometer Telescope for Imaging X-rays (STIX)

Art of Technology was awarded a contract by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the design, development, production and supply of the Detector Electronics Module (DEM) used in the STIX instrument, a Swiss experiment, funded by the Swiss Space Office and one of ten instruments on-board the Solar Orbiter.

Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on 10th February 2020, Solar Orbiter will travel to within 45 million km of the Sun (¼ of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, closer than any other spacecraft to date allowing a portion of the surface to be observed for longer periods of time without interruption. The Solar Orbiter mission will address the central questions of helio-physics, i.e. how does the Sun create and control the heliosphere?

Developed and built under the leadership of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern (FHNW), the STIX instrument will provide observations of the sun with unprecedented sharpness and direct measurements of solar winds and charged particles close to their point of origin. The new orbit will allow study of the far side of the Sun that cannot be seen from Earth… and for the first time, the polar regions.

STIX will contribute to understanding the mechanisms behind the acceleration of electrons at the Sun and their transport into the interplanetary space. STIX will also play a key role in linking remote-sensing and in-situ observations on Solar Orbiter with imaging spectroscopy of solar thermal and non-thermal X-ray emissions providing quantitative information on the timing, location, intensity and spectra of accelerated electrons as well as of high temperature thermal plasmas, which are mostly associated with flares or micro-flares in the solar corona and chromosphere.

The STIX instrument is divided into three subsystems operating in two different thermal environments: Feedthrough with two X-ray windows, Grids with aspect system and the Detector Electronics Module (DEM). The Grids and DEM are located inside the spacecraft, while the feedthrough is surrounded by the heat-shield and one of the windows is directly exposed to the Sun. The spacecraft interior temperature is kept at +50°C and -20°C in hot and cold operational modes respectively, while the CdTe detectors located inside the DEM are kept at around -20°C by a cold element provided by the spacecraft.

STIX - Telescope Exploded

Detector Electronics Module (DEM)

STiX-DEM - DeE Alignment

Optical Alignment of the Detector Electronics (DeE-Q1)

Detector Electronics Module (DEM)

Customer: European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA Contract No. 4000108509/13/NL/JC

The Detector Electronics Module includes cold electronics with 32 detectors (aligned behind each collimator of the imager to perform photon-counting and spectroscopy in the hard X-ray range, as well as analogue buffers, filters and temperature sensors) connected to a cold element at −20°C, and warm front-end electronics (including analogue-to-digital converters, voltage regulators, test pulse generator, filters) possibly at +50°C.

The Instrument Data Processing Unit (IDPU) includes Power Supply Units (PSU), FPGAs to control the Detectors (configuration and event readout) and all ADC (for aspect system photodiode, temperature and photon energy signal encoding) as well as flight application software for scientific data processing and Space-wire communication with the spacecraft.

Our Contribution

Design, development, production, integration and test ofSystem design support
  • Detector Electronics (DeE)
  • High Voltage Electronics (HVE)
  • Back-End Electronics (BEE)
  • Support and review of flight design layout (PSU)
  • Interface to Power Supply Unit (PSU)
  • Interface to Instrument Data Processing Unit (IDPU)
Support instrument integration and testingElectronic Ground Support Equipment (EGSE)
  • Power Supply Unit (PSU)
  • Instrument Data Processing Unit (IDPU)
  • Supervision of functional testing during production
  • Supervision of functional testing during integration
  • Supervision of EMC testing,
  • Supervision of Qualification & Acceptance testing
  • Production and test of electronics and test adaptors

The SPICE Instrument

Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering

SPICE is a high resolution imaging spectrometer operating at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths that will address the key science goals of Solar Orbiter by providing quantitative knowledge of the physical state and composition of the plasmas in the solar atmosphere, in particular investigating the source regions of outflows and ejection processes which link the solar surface and corona to the heliosphere.

SPICE is designed to study the structure, dynamics and composition of the transition region and corona by observing key emission lines on the solar disk on timescales from seconds to tens of minutes. A key aspect of the SPICE observing capability is the ability to quantify the spatial and temporal signatures of temperature and density tracers to unravel the inter-relationship between the chromosphere, coronal structures, coronal mass ejections, the solar wind and the low corona.

Observing the intensities of selected spectral lines and line profiles of two extreme ultraviolet (EUV) wavelength bands (70.4 – 79.0 nm / 97.3 – 104.9 nm), SPICE will derive temperature, density, flow and composition information of a wide range of plasmas (ionised atoms) formed in the Sun’s atmosphere at temperatures from 10’000 to 10’000’000 Kelvin.

SPICE Slit Change Mechanism
(Photo: Almatech SA)

Slit Change Mechanism (SCM)

Prime contractor: Almatech SA
Contract No. ALM-ACH-0776.15

The Slit Change Mechanism located at the heart of the SPICE instrument provides four interchangeable slits of different widths that are necessary for the dispersion of the light from the Sun. The image of the sun formed by the off-axis parabolic mirror is sent to the four slits. Each of the slits selects a portion of the solar image and passes it onto two detector arrays and can be individually selected into the active slit position depending upon the science activities to be conducted.

Our Contribution

  • Review functional design, schematics and layout of electronics
  • Production and test of electronics
  • EMC safety check and testing

Characterisation of 3D-MID for Space applications

Customer: European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA Contract No. 4000117360/16/UK/ND

Art of Technology received a contract from the European Space Agency to characterise the suitability of 3D-MID materials, technologies & manufacturing processes for use in space applications.

3D-MID Technology (using injection moulded thermoplastics) enables the integration of mechanical, electronic, optical and thermal functions into three-dimensional designs via selective metallisation, offering a high geometric design freedom and supports the miniaturisation of electronic devices. Applications such as position sensors, actuators, switches, and antennas can benefit from the manufacture of complex structures and shapes offering potentially significant savings in space, mass and weight, that cannot be realised with conventional electronic manufacturing methods.

The term MID can also include mechatronic integrated devices taking into account the fact that the three-dimensional carriers do not necessarily have to be injection moulded thermoplastics. Other materials, such as ceramics and thermosets can also be used, allowing the integration of sensors in complex structures or the integration of shielding, cooling and housing for optimal miniaturisation and weight saving. Even thermal functions such as heat dissipation and cooling can be realised using thermal conductive substrate materials and fully metallised surfaces.

Main Benefits of 3D-MID Technology

Applications such as position sensors, actuators, switches, and antennas can benefit from the manufacture of complex structures and shapes that cannot be realised by conventional electronic manufacturing methods. The use of 3D-MID technology allows geometric design freedom which combined with selective structuring and metallisation offers a number of potential benefits leading to reduction in overall system costs.

Optimal space utilisation via high functional integration density of mechanical & electronic functions on one component

MID enabled designs allow more efficient Assembly, Integration & Test (AIT)

  • miniaturisation with significant weight savings
  • high level of precision in the ultra-fine conductor range
  • 3D layout permits defined angles between components, stacking and precision placement of components
  • reduction of assemblies through reduction of conventional interconnect devices (e.g. strip conductors directly in the enclosure)
  • rationalisation and overall system simplification via reduction of process steps, number of parts and mounting time
  • increase in manufacturing reliability due to fewer mechanical parts and processes
  • full three-dimensionality with through plating allows complex three-dimensional interconnect devices
  • production with high variance and short changeover times. Layout change of the conductor network needs no tools, just a change of the CAD layout data

Our Contribution

ObjectivesScope of Work
  • characterise the suitability of 3D-MID technologies, manufacturing techniques, processes and materials for space telecom applications. Target for this activity is TRL5
  • Identify critical issues and recommendations, with respect to possible next steps, changes or modifications that may be required, lessons learned and conclusions
  • Propose possible follow on activities and road map to help increase the Technology Readiness Level (TRL)

Phase 1: Investigation, Definition and Process Evaluation

  • Technology review & selection of space applications
  • Evaluation of manufacturing processes & selection of materials

Phase 2: Design, Manufacturing and Characterisation

  • Design, prototype definition and test planning
  • Manufacturing and assembly of parts
  • Characterisation of the manufactured part
  • Results analysis, identification of critical issues and future developments
3D-MID Sun Sensor 1


The most significant achievements realised during the execution of this project are:

  • Reduction in height and weight up to 75% compared to the sun sensors currently available, all of which use standard technology. As such, 3D-MID Suns Sensors would be ideal for use on virtually all satellites where mass is a critical parameter, in particular on micro satellites / Cubesats
  • Environmental tests (thermal cycle and life test) showed that all test vehicles survived fully functionally (without notable degradation)
  • Vibration and shock tests showed some structural damage but sufficient information to mitigate the issues was gained
  • Information gained for system engineering related to mould compatible designs and using the additional degree of freedom in placement
  • Collected information for manufacturer on space requirements for testing and assembly technology requirements (e.g. proving Au wire bonding on 3D-MID)
POLAR - In Space

«POLAR» (in Space)

POLAR: Gamma Ray Burst Polarimeter

Customer: European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA Contract No. 4000107117/12/NL/CB (HVPS)
ESA Contract No. 4000107120/12/NL/CB (LVPS)

Despite being discovered in 1960 (Vela satellites) Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) are still full of mystery and the production mechanism of these very intense explosions in the universe is still unknown. To validate – or exclude – existing models about their creation, a precise measurement of the polarisation of the GRB is essential.

POLAR is a highly sensitive detector using the Compton Scattering Effect to measure the polarisation of incoming photons. With its large FoV (field of view) and a detection energy up to 500 keV POLAR will measure the polarisation of GRB emissions using low Z material Plastic Scintillators, multimode Photomultipliers and multi-channel ASIC Front-end Electronics. POLAR is scheduled for two to three years operation in space during which a large number of GRBs are expected to be measured.

POLAR - Onboard Tiangong-2

First official photo onboard
space laboratory “Tiangong-2”


Low Voltage Power Supply (LVPS)


High Voltage Power Supply (HVPS)

Our Contribution

Construction of the POLAR detector was an international collaboration project with contributions from China, France, Poland and Switzerland. The scope of Art of Technology’s duties and responsibilities included the Design and Development of the Low and High Power modules, i.e.:

  • Feasibility Study:
    investigate design of the existing front end electronics with respect to issues related to space applications in order to identify potential design errors or weaknesses and provide recommendations to increase reliability of manufacturing and overall system
  • High Voltage Power Supply (HVPS):
    system reverse engineering from breadboard, system re-design, development and manufacture of the High Voltage Power Supply with 26 settable power sources on 3 prints with 300 – 500 components per board (300mm x 60mm, 6 layers)
  • Low Voltage Power Supply (LVPS):
    system feasibility study, design, development and manufacture of the Low Voltage Power Supply (LVPS) with 82 switchable power sources on 2 prints with 800 – 1’300 components per board (300mm x 60mm, 8 layers)
  • Component procurement and production:
    EQM, QM’s and FM (at the end-user’s choice of manufacturers)

POLAR was the only non-Chinese experiment onboard Tiangong-2, the Chinese space laboratory intended as an interim test bed for key technologies that was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center  (JLSC) on 15th September 2016 and then de-commission on 19th July 2019 (as planned).

Our first electronics in space!

NETLANDER - Deployed

NETLANDER in deployed configuration

Seismometer Electronics

Customer: Contraves Space AG

The NETLANDER mission planned to send a network of four identical landers to the surface of Mars to perform simultaneous measurements in order to study the internal structure of Mars, its sub-surface and its atmosphere. To fulfil the mission objectives with respect to the interior, subsurface, atmosphere and ionosphere investigation of MARS, each the 4 landers was to carry a payload composed of nine instruments. The Seismometer Electronics «SEIS-EL» control the legs of the measurement sphere, the internal seismic instruments and a variety of sensors.


NETLANDER Sphere with
2 Very Broadband SEISmomoters

NETLANDER - SEISmometer Electronics

(Engineering Model)

Our Contribution

With a mass of the surface modules limited to 22kg, of which only 5.2kg was allowed for scientific instruments, the ultimate goal was to estimate possible mass / volume reductions (and cost) and to provide a recommendation for the most suitable approach and technology. Art of Technology conducted a System Analysis, Feasibility Study and Technology Evaluation of the main and auxiliary controllers and motor drive electronics, including:

  • SEIS Main Controller Electronics (SEIS-MC)
  • SEIS Acquisition Controller (SEIS-AC)
  • critical properties review
  • evaluation of High Density Packaging technologies
  • identifying IC (ASIC) technology for implementing (digital) circuits
  • review miniaturisation potential and component availability
  • identify achievable mass volume and power for FM circuits
  • analysis of development and qualification costs for FM models

The view expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency.